THE rugby season has been thrown into further chaos with confirmation that Guinness PRO14 games involving Italian clubs in March will be postponed, while Six Nations officials have confirmed that Ireland's Women's and U-20s matches against France will also be put back.
The PRO14 news means Munster will now go at least six weeks without a match between their win over Scarlets on February 29 and their next outing away to Cardiff Blues on April 11 as they were due to play Benetton home and away on March 21 and 27.
The trip to Treviso had already been put back as a result of the spread of the coronavirus in Northern Italy along with Zebre’s match against Ulster, but today tournament organisers put the home leg and Zebre’s game against Cardiff Blues on ice as a result of travel restrictions put in place by the Italian government.
The PRO14 hope to reschedule the matches on windows allocated for the Heineken Champions Cup and Challenge Cup knockout rounds, but those remain under threat and Ulster are down to play Toulouse in three weeks' time.
If no window is available for rescheduling the matches, they will be declared 0-0 draws.
That could severely impact Munster’s hopes of finishing on top of Conference B and earning a home semi-final place which, in turn, would see them avoid an away trip to Leinster for the first time in three years.
They currently trail Edinburgh by two points at the top of the table and have an eight-point cushion ahead of Scarlets in third.
With a ban on gatherings of more than 1,000 people now in place in France, the Top 14 could be put on hold in the next couple of weeks and there is uncertainty around every element of the season to come ,with the Champions Cup quarter-finals just over three weeks away.
"Currently in Northern Italy, no unnecessary travel is permitted in or out of the Lombardy region and 14 other provinces, which include the cities of Treviso and Parma," a PRO14 statement read.
"These restrictions are in place until Friday, April 3, 2020 and PRO14 Rugby will remain in contact with the FIR (Italian Union), Zebre Rugby Club, Benetton Rugby and World Rugby to monitor the situation on a regular basis.
"The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) latest report has listed over 100 countries with confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus. To ensure the safety of our players and spectators PRO14 Rugby fully supports the preventative measures taken in Italy and will adhere to the directives from the WHO and local authorities.
"PRO14 Rugby aims to reschedule these matches on dates during the European weekends in April and May. PRO14 Rugby is currently engaged with EPCR to avoid any scheduling conflicts with European knock-out games.
"As stated on February 28, in the event that no alternative dates can be found to ensure that a postponed fixture is fulfilled, the board of Celtic Rugby DAC has agreed that both teams will be awarded two match points and the game will be deemed a 0-0 draw."
As expected, the Ireland women's and U-20s will not travel to France this weekend as their matches go the way of the men's game that was called off yesterday.
The Six Nations say they are working with the respective unions to find new dates to accommodate the teams whose needs and schedules are very different to the senior men, whose matches are likely to be re-fixed for October.
The U-20s are due to play the World Cup in Northern Italy in June and July and could look to take on the Italians and French before that tournament, while the Women's team have a World Cup qualification repechage in September.